Eat Breakfast Like a King

American Breakfast

Back in the 80s, public service announcements in the US touted breakfast as “the most important meal of the day.” Evidence suggests that people who eat breakfast regularly generally consume more daily calories but are less likely to be overweight. Kids who breakfast may even have better cognitive function, test scores and school attendance, leading some school districts to have a breakfast program, especially for underprivileged children. Adelle Davis, an American pioneer in the field of nutrition, famously said, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a common man, and dinner like a pauper,” highlighting the importance of the first meal of the day.

While busy schedules have tended to reverse that order, Middle America is still in love with breakfast, championed by family restaurant chains like Denny’s and IHOP (International House of Pancakes), where breakfast foods are on offer all day long. The truism, “everything is bigger in America,” applies equally to breakfasts, home of Lumberjack breakfasts which traditionally nourished brawny men for a hard day’s work cutting down trees or working in the fields. Denny’s Lumberjack Slam, two buttermilk pancakes, a slice of grilled ham, two bacon strips, two sausage links and two eggs, plus Hash Browns or grits and choice of bread, comes in at 1,000 calories, 3,010 milligrams of sodium and a whopping 460 milligrams of cholesterol, unabashedly more than 50 percent of the recommended intake for the entire day. Americans love their breakfasts.


Vietnamese-American Tristan Ngo, chef/owner of The Elbow Room aims to recreate some of his favorite food memories growing up in California. “Nowadays in San Jose, Houston, Los Angeles, there is Vietnamese breakfast everywhere. But back in the late 70s, there was no com tam, no pho. So I grew up on strictly American breakfasts. Some of the best food I’ve had was the big warm raisin cinnamon roll at school with some milk and OJ.” Other of Tristan’s breakfast memories include selling tickets for USD2 pancake breakfasts as a kid (“If you sold a hundred, you got to go to summer camp for free!”) and finding a corner at Denny’s (the place to hang out before there was Starbucks) to study, fueled by all-day breakfast foods.

“Americans, we like sturdy, heavy foods. When I go back to the US, I love doughnuts, bagels, and proper egg muffins. There are specialty shops that make just bagels or just muffins. The portion sizes in the US are just ridiculous, though. Sometimes you can’t even finish one, but it sets you up for the whole day.”


At The Elbow Room, a rustic homage to retro Americana, with its exposed brick, black and white vintage photographs and Nora Jones soundtrack, diners can order breakfast all day, including the Lumberjack (two pancakes, two eggs, bacon, smoked ham, home fries and toast, VND200,000), Eggs Benedict (two poached eggs, smoked ham on thick whole wheat bread, smothered in Hollandaise sauce with a side of home fries, VND140,000) and classic French Toast (four extra thick slices dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon, served with maple syrup, VND125,000). Even better, splurge and get the blueberry pancakes (additional VND20,000) where the blueberries are mixed right in the batter. Topped with a slab of butter and drizzled with maple syrup, there’s nothing better.

“The secret to the perfect pancake is in the mix. Too thin and it’ll fall apart when you pour syrup on it. Too thick and it becomes hard. It has to be fluffy and that’s hard to do,” says Tristan. “San Francisco had a lot of small shops that did really good breakfasts. I’d even schedule my classes so I’d have time for breakfast. I’m trying to bring that kind of American-style breakfast to Vietnam. Two of everything. Now that’s a real breakfast!”

The Elbow Room: 52 Pasteur, D1

Images by Ngoc Tran and Adam Robert Young

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